MYRTLE BEACH — Construction on a building for a company that would bring more than 1,000 jobs to the area could start as early as next month in Horry County.
Project Blue, as the project has been dubbed, wants to begin construction around Sept.1, if certain requirements are met, according to the timeline the company gave the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., said EDC’s president and chief executive officer Brad Lofton.
To finalize the deal, the Horry County Council needs two more votes to authorize the county borrowing $8 million for the project. The council is expected to take those votes at its meeting on Tuesday and on Aug.21.
The EDC is also working with the company on a performance agreement.
Lofton said he feels certain the county will get the company, which would bring 1,020 jobs to the area.
But some county leaders have raised concerns about spending public money before having all the facts about the company.
Community activists and political leaders are lobbying the county for the project without having the whole story, said County Councilman Marion Foxworth.
“This is a complicated deal with a lot of moving parts,” Foxworth said. “When spending public money, especially debt, we should have public comment.”
Foxworth voted against the council going into a closed session a couple of weeks ago on the issue of the $8 million general obligation bonds, though he is in favor of the county moving forward with the project.
“I’m not comfortable with borrowing money and doing it out of sight of the general public,” he said. “You don’t borrow money to gamble with. I don’t know what will happen at Tuesday’s meeting but on the first reading, there were a lot of parts of the plan not nailed down, that were still up in the air.
“I would love to have 1,020 jobs but at what cost?” he said. “What are we putting at risk”?
Officials still won’t reveal the name and nature of Project Blue’s business because of confidentiality agreements until the deal is finalized, but Lofton has said it would be located in the Carolina Forest area, have a $30 million annual payroll and a $75 million annual economic impact on the area.
County Councilman Harold Worley supports the project but said the proposal presented to the council is too risky because of the planned location for the company and the proposed development agreement.
“The proposed development agreement puts the taxpayers at too much financial risk,” said Worley, who would prefer to see the building at the International Technology and Aerospace Park, or ITAP, near the Myrtle Beach International Airport instead of in the Carolina Forest area. “I’m not going to put $9.8 million of taxpayers’ money at risk. The taxpayers stand to lose too much on a proposal we don’t know much about.”
Under the proposal, the county would contribute $1.25 million and Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility, would give a $550,000 grant, for a $1.8 million cash incentive to Project Blue, reimbursing the company for furniture, fixtures and equipment.
The average wage would be $14.36 an hour for Project Blue jobs. All 1,020 jobs would have to be created within 10 months of the building being completed, according to the proposal.
If the company doesn’t stay longer than five years and EDC cannot find another tenant for the building, the county would purchase the 60,000-square-foot building from the developer along with 600 parking spaces and 10 acres at the beginning of year six for $7 million.
If the county has to buy the building back, Santee Cooper guarantees to loan the county $6 million for 10 years, if the facilities are used for economic development purposes, with the remaining $1 million coming from EDC’s product development fund.
If that happened, the county could use the building for a critical services complex, which would cost an additional $1 million to upgrade the building.
The county’s agreements are contingent upon a written commitment from a Fortune 100 client that is working with the Project Blue company, according to the proposal.
County Councilmen Paul Prince and Carl Schwartzkopf said they hope more information will be provided to the council about Project Blue at its Tuesday meeting.
“I’m always looking for a sound project for our county and something I can feel relatively good about,” Prince said. “As any big project like this, there are pros and cons. I’m just waiting to hear the rest of the story.
“I never feel good about borrowing money but sometimes it’s a necessary thing to make things happen,” Prince continued. “We know we need jobs in Horry County. I’m still open-minded about it.”
Schwartzkopf, who said he is 100 percent behind the project, said “I think we need it, should move forward and get it done.”
Project Blue is one of 14 prospective companies that the EDC has been pursing.
Two others, Project BL and Project AF, the names business recruiters use when talking about the companies, would bring more than 130 manufacturing jobs to the Myrtle Beach area, Lofton has said.
The state Budget and Control Board approved Wednesday the issuance of a $10 million revenue bond for BauschLinnemann – a company that makes paper and laminate products - which will help the company expand its manufacturing jobs in the area to 55 over a two-year period in Horry County.
Candace Howell, EDC’s director of marketing & membership, would not confirm nor deny Wednesday whether BauschLinnemann is Project BL, stating that because of agreements with the company it has to be confidential until an announcement date.
The EDC plans to announce Project BL jobs sometime this month, Lofton has said.
Contact JANELLE FROST at 443-2404.